Understanding how you learn is very beneficial to achieving academic and professional success. The VAK learning style theory states that we each have different learning preferences and process information differently.
According to the theory, there are three main learning modalities:
By identifying your preferred or innate style, you can tailor your study techniques or work to improve your learning, understanding, and retention of information, improving your performance.
This article will explain the characteristics of each of these VAK learning styles and provide examples of how to apply this knowledge to achieve success both academically and professionally.
The VAK theory outlines the following three styles of learning.
Visual learners process information best when seeing information, such as text, diagrams, charts, videos, and images. They tend to strongly prefer visual aids to assist their learning and processing of information and can find it most useful to take notes, make diagrams, create mind maps, and draw pictures. For instance, a visual learner may benefit from watching a video tutorial to understand how to use a new software program or prefer to read an infographic that illustrates key concepts rather than listen to a lecture or verbal instructions.
Visual learners often excel in subjects that require visualisation, such as math, science, art and design. Visual learners may also excel in artistic fields, such as graphic design, photography, and video production, as they naturally can create visually appealing work. Other jobs that may suit visual learners include architecture, web design, and animation, as they involve creating visual representations and designing visual layouts.
Strategies that can help visual learners
Use visual aids: Visual aids can help to reinforce concepts and improve comprehension. Visual learners should try to use charts, diagrams, videos, and other visual aids whenever possible to enhance their learning.
Take notes: Visual learners may find taking notes during lectures or presentations helpful, as this can help them better process and remember the information.
Use colour-coding: Colour-coding notes or information can help visual learners to categorise and organise information more effectively.
Create mind maps: Mind maps are a great way to represent and connect concepts visually. Visual learners can use mind maps to organise their thoughts and ideas and better understand the relationships between different concepts.
Watch videos or demonstrations: Visual learners may benefit from videos or demonstrations illustrating key concepts or skills. This can help them to better visualise and understand the information.
Use flashcards: Flashcards can be a helpful study tool for visual learners, providing a visual cue to help them remember information.
Read and write: Although visual learners may prefer to learn through images and diagrams, reading and writing can still be important for reinforcing concepts and improving comprehension. Visual learners may benefit from reading written materials aloud or writing out their own notes to better engage with the material.
Challenges for visual learners
Heavy reliance on auditory materials: When information is presented primarily in the form of spoken content, visual learners may struggle to retain the details as effectively as they would with visual aids.
Lack of visual aids or resources: Visual learners may have a harder time understanding and retaining information in work or study environments where visual materials are scarce or unavailable.
Inability to visualise abstract concepts: Visual learners may struggle to grasp abstract ideas or theories that are difficult to represent visually.
Poor note-taking skills: Visual learners often benefit from using diagrams, mind maps, or other visual aids in their notes. They may have difficulty organising and retaining information if they haven't developed these skills.
Difficulty following verbal instructions: Visual learners might struggle to understand and remember instructions given solely through speech, as they typically prefer to see things demonstrated or written down.
Inefficient group work: In group settings where members have different learning styles, visual learners may feel frustrated if their needs are not acknowledged or accommodated.
Distractions: Visual learners can be sensitive to visual clutter or distractions in their environment, which might make it difficult for them to concentrate and absorb information.
Auditory learners learn best through sound and verbal communication rather than just reading or watching it being demonstrated. Examples of activities that auditory learners find beneficial include listening to podcasts or audiobooks, participating in group discussions or debates, attending lectures, and listening to music or soundtracks while studying. Additionally, auditory learners may benefit from reading aloud or recording themselves reciting information to help reinforce their understanding.
Subjects and jobs that require good listening and communication skills may suit auditory learners. Some subjects that may cater to auditory learners include language classes, music, and public speaking. Auditory learners may also excel in careers that involve verbal communication, such as teaching, journalism, counselling, and broadcasting. They may have a talent for writing, storytelling, or producing audio content, such as podcasts or audiobooks.
Strategies that can help auditory learners
Participate in group discussions: Auditory learners benefit from group discussions and debates as they can hear different perspectives and ideas.
Use recordings: Auditory learners can benefit from recording lectures or lessons and then listening to them repeatedly.
Utilise mnemonic devices: Auditory learners can remember information by creating rhymes, songs, or acronyms to help them recall important details.
Repeat information aloud: Auditory learners benefit from repeating information aloud to themselves as it helps them better process and retain the information.
Listen to audiobooks or podcasts: Audiobooks and podcasts can be a great way for auditory learners to learn and retain information, as they can listen to the material at their own pace.
Challenges for auditory learners
Visual-heavy materials: Auditory learners may struggle with learning from written materials, diagrams, charts, or graphs, as they prefer to process information through listening.
Quiet environments: In situations where minimal talking or auditory input is expected, such as silent reading, these learners might feel less engaged and struggle to focus or retain information.
Limited verbal instruction: If instructions or explanations are primarily provided in written form, auditory learners may have a harder time understanding and retaining the information.
Group projects: Working in groups can be challenging for auditory learners if there is excessive background noise or if conversations are unstructured, making it difficult to process information.
Note-taking: Auditory learners might find it challenging to take detailed notes during lectures or meetings. They prefer to focus on listening and may struggle to write and listen simultaneously.
Online courses: E-learning platforms with primarily text-based content may not be ideal for auditory learners. They might have difficulty engaging with the material if there are limited opportunities for listening to lectures or participating in discussions.
Nonverbal cues: Since auditory learners focus on verbal communication, they might miss or misinterpret important visual or nonverbal cues, such as body language or facial expressions.
Kinaesthetic learners are individuals who process information best when it is presented in a hands-on format. Kinaesthetic learners prefer to engage with the learning material through movement and physical activity. They may struggle to sit still and listen to a lecture or watch a video for an extended period. Instead, they may benefit from participating in hands-on training sessions, simulations, or other experiential learning activities to help them understand complex concepts.
Kinaesthetic learners excel in subjects and jobs involving physical activity, experimentation, and hands-on problem-solving. They often have a natural aptitude for activities that require good hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and dexterity. Some subjects that kinaesthetic learners may excel at include physical education, sports, dance, art, theatre, and science labs. Regarding careers, kinaesthetic learners may succeed in fields such as construction, engineering, automotive repair, nursing, physical therapy, culinary arts, and performing arts. They may also excel in physical labour roles, such as landscaping, farming, or manufacturing. Ultimately, kinaesthetic learners are likely to thrive in any job that allows them to use their hands and engage their senses meaningfully.
Strategies that can help kinaesthetic learners
Engage in hands-on activities: Kinaesthetic learners benefit from activities that allow them to manipulate objects or use their hands somehow. This might include building models, working with puzzles, or doing experiments.
Use movement: Kinaesthetic learners often need to move to learn effectively. This might include taking frequent breaks to stretch or doing physical activities like yoga or exercise to help them stay focused.
Role-playing: Acting out scenarios or role-playing can be an effective way for kinaesthetic learners to understand complex concepts or practice skills.
Take notes by hand: Writing notes by hand can be helpful for kinaesthetic learners, as it allows them to physically engage with the material and reinforce their understanding through muscle memory.
Use visual aids: Kinaesthetic learners may benefit from visual aids like diagrams, videos, or illustrations that help them understand concepts tangibly.
Work in groups: Collaborating with others can be a helpful strategy for kinaesthetic learners, as it allows them to engage in hands-on activities with others and learn through discussion and interaction.
Get hands-on experience: Kinaesthetic learners may benefit from seeking internships, apprenticeships, or other opportunities to gain practical experience in their field of interest.
Challenges for kinaesthetic learners
Passive learning environments: Lecture-based classes, long meetings, or webinars can be challenging for kinaesthetic learners, who may have difficulty concentrating and retaining information in these settings.
Lack of hands-on experiences: Workplaces or educational settings that lack opportunities for hands-on learning or practical application of skills may leave kinaesthetic learners feeling disconnected from the material.
Limited movement opportunities: Kinaesthetic learners may struggle to concentrate in environments where they must sit still for extended periods.
Note-taking challenges: Kinaesthetic learners may struggle with traditional note-taking methods, as they prefer to engage with the material in more physical ways.
Group work or collaboration: Kinaesthetic learners may have difficulty working in groups, as they may prefer to explore and learn independently through trial and error.
Difficulty with abstract concepts: Kinaesthetic learners may struggle with abstract or theoretical concepts, as they prefer to learn through direct experience.
Slow pace: Kinaesthetic learners may become impatient with a slow pace, as they prefer to engage with the material and make progress quickly actively.
Why is it important to know your own VAK learning style in the workplace?
Knowing your own VAK learning style can be beneficial in the workplace in these ways:
Improved learning and retention: When you know your learning style, you can seek out learning opportunities that cater to your preferred style.
Increased engagement: When learning materials are presented in a way that aligns with your learning style, you are more likely to be engaged and interested in the content. This can lead to increased motivation and productivity.
Better communication: Knowing your own learning style can also help you communicate more effectively with colleagues and team members. By sharing your preferences with others, you can work together to find the best way to communicate and collaborate effectively.
Improved performance: By understanding your own learning style, you can identify areas where you may need additional support or training. For example, if you are a kinaesthetic learner, you may benefit from hands-on training sessions to improve your skills. This can lead to improved performance and success in the workplace.
Understanding your own VAK learning style can be a valuable tool in the workplace. Knowing your preferred learning style allows you to seek learning opportunities that align with your preferences, increase engagement and motivation, communicate more effectively with colleagues, and improve your overall performance.
Why is it important to know your own VAK learning style when studying?
Knowing your VAK learning style can be helpful when studying in these ways:
Study techniques: When you know your preferred learning style, you can tailor your study techniques to match your style. For example, if you are a visual learner, you may find it helpful to use diagrams, charts, and mind maps to help you understand complex concepts. If you are an auditory learner, you may find listening to lectures or discussions related to the topic helpful.
Study environment: You can create an environment that matches your learning style. For example, if you are a kinaesthetic learner, you may prefer to study in a space where you can move around and use hands-on materials. If you are an auditory learner, you may prefer to study in a quiet space where you can listen to lectures or discussions.
Retention of information: When studying, you may find that you retain information better when it is presented in a way that matches your learning style. For example, if you are a visual learner, you may remember information better if presented in a written format.
Knowing your VAK learning style can help you to study more effectively by tailoring your study techniques and environment to match your learning style. This can help you retain information better and improve your academic performance.
How can you find out your VAK learning style?
There are a number of ways to identify your VAK learning style:
Self-assessment: You can take a self-assessment to identify your preferred learning style. Many free online assessments can help you determine your VAK learning style.
Observation: You can observe your behaviour to determine your learning style. For example, taking many notes during meetings or training sessions may make you a visual learner. You may be an auditory learner if you prefer to listen to lectures or discussions. You may be a kinaesthetic learner if you prefer to participate in hands-on activities.
Feedback: You can also ask colleagues, managers, or trainers for feedback. They may have noticed your learning preferences and can provide insight into your learning style.
Trial and error: You can try different learning activities to determine what works best for you. For example, if you are unsure whether you are a visual or auditory learner, you can try watching a video and listening to a podcast about the same topic and see which one you find more engaging and effective.
Scenarios (from Mind Tools):
Think about how you complain
When you complain about something, chances are your emotions are running high and you'll revert to the communication style you feel most comfortable with
Do you want to see someone face to face (visual), complain someone over the phone (auditory), or bang your fists on the table (kinaesthetic)?
Imagine yourself in an uncomfortable situation
If you were lost in a strange city at night, how would you find your way to your destination?
Would you use a map (visual), ask someone for directions (auditory), or keep walking until you worked out where you were (kinaesthetic)?
What style of presentation do you prefer?
Think back to the last presentation you attended what was it that most stuck in your mind?
Was it the charts or visual aids (visual), the words the presenter used (auditory), or any audience participation (kinaesthetic)?
VAK learning styles can provide valuable insights into how individuals perceive, process, and remember information. Whether it's using visual aids, using music or role-playing exercises, or incorporating movement into learning activities, there are many ways to leverage VAK learning styles to reach your full potential.